Now we know. Michael Phelps has made believers out of us. His hope of breaking Mark Spitz’s 1972 Olympic record of seven gold medals was not just hype.
But as impressed as I am by his dominance of Olympic waters, and his endurance of swimming 17 races in 9 days, what Michael repeatedly acknowledged in media interviews is so true. He could not have won eight gold medals by himself. He needed the help of so many others.
Before his historic and final race, an article in the New York Times said, “Michael Phelps’s attempt to win eight gold medals will not be totally under his control at the Beijing Games…As everyone knows by now, Phelps’s shot at eight golds would have ended Monday morning if Jason Lezak had not completed an astonishing anchor leg in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.”
His quest also would have ended in a loss to Milorad Cavic, of Serbia, in his seventh win, if it had not been for technology. The human eye could not, in real time, see what the electronic touch pads confirmed in 1/100th of a second. Nor could the subsequent Serbian protest have been resolved without the additional video and timing reviews that allowed Olympic judges to confirm his win by watching the finish in frames and increments of 10/1000ths of a second.
The way Phelps achieved his amazing Olympic accomplishment, with the help of so many others– so many and so “invisible” that they could never be counted– reminds me of the “interdependence” that the Apostle Paul often wrote about in his letters to first century churches. For instance, in his letter to the Corinthians he talked about the fact that God has gifted us all differently, and made us all dependent upon one another. Likening individuals to the members of a human body he wrote, “The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you'” (12:21).
Paul wrote this after saying, “Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?
Suppose the whole body were an eye– then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But God made our bodies with many parts, and he has put each part just where he wants it” (12:14-18).
This principle of interdependence is not a favorite insight in our modern world of democratic independence. But it is foundational to our faith. Even when we don’t think we need one another, we do– in ways far beyond our own ability to realize.
I have no idea what is happening in my life today (both physically and spiritually) because of the prayers and contributions of countless people I have never even met.
Most importantly, I could never even take the next breath without the patient provision and immeasurable mercy of God.
Michael Phelps isn’t the only one whose achievements are made possible by the work and services of a support team that is so great and so complex, that God alone deserves the credit for making it all possible.
If we are allowed to think or to do anything today that is noteworthy because it honors God or is helpful to others, who can tell what part was played by those now unseen persons who have taken time and thought to encourage, to teach, or to pray for us…